[Interview] Mikel Knight Talks About New Album “Urban Cowboy” & Maverick Dirt Road Street Team (@CountryRapKing)
Rebel Row: Tell us a little bit about your new album “Urban Cowboy”?
Mikel Knight: Urban Cowboy is a day in the life of Mikel Knight, but takes place over the course of an entire album. Everything I write about is from real life experience. Urban Cowboy is basically the platform on which my life is illustrated–in living color! It’s chock-full of songs that make you bounce, think, throw your hands up and nod to…just the way life makes you feel a bunch of different emotions.
RR: Your goal is to be the first artist to ever have a Gold selling record by selling CDs out on the road via street team. Your hustle is not unlike that of rapper Tech N9ne and his label Strange Music, who just made the Forbes list for the highest grossing rappers. Where did the inspiration for your hustle and business sense come from? Who do you look up to?
MK: My hustle came from living in Texas and being surrounded by dudes who knew how to grind and beat the pavement like no one you’ve ever seen; the true street team/guerilla marketing movement. Growing up in the era when indie hip-hop was ALL we had to rely on, from an industry standpoint, I saw first-hand how artists and labels worked their records and were running their businesses. It was serious and they were making powerful moves. I look up to those people–the independent labels/influencers like Rap-a-lot, DJ Screw, Tech N9ne, the Bay Area movement–all those dudes that were on the map from their own budgets, not some major out of a big city.
RR: Why do you think more artists don’t utilize this type of street level marketing?
MK: I suppose there are a few reasons: they don’t know what true guerilla marketing is, they don’t have the knowledge about street teams and building one, a lot of artists are strictly relying on social media, I guess, and some are just lazy. It takes work–a daily grind–to get to the top.
RR: Tell us about how the Maverick Dirt Road Street Team got started?
MK: After working with my core team for a long time, we realized that our efforts needed to be multiplied–from a physical perspective. We saw where things were headed and the need for a street level, on-the-ground team was there. So, we recruited guys we knew would go hard and grind for the mission and be disciplined enough to see things through. From a handful of recruits to a force of more than 60 cowboys on the Maverick Dirt Road Street Team is the result of years of field training and doing the right things internally to keep the movement alive.
RR: Run us through a typical day for the Maverick Dirt Road Street Team?
MK: It’s an up-at-dawn, all day, focused hustle. They all have their marching orders and understand the business model like the back of their hands–from packing inventory and prepping the vans to the point of sale. We deploy the vans and the team goes out and hits a city or town–wherever we have strategically planned to cover. They get out and talk to everybody and share their stories and the Mikel Knight story…and they get the public excited about this music. It’s an organized, full-out endeavor that’s executed every single day.
RR: What qualities does someone need to have to be a successful member of the team?
MK: They need to be hungry; hungry to be more and have more than they do right now, and be willing to be part of a disciplined team of brothers. Our guys need to be focused and ready to work for the life they want to create and not expect it to be handed over on a silver platter.
RR: Despite your success and interest from labels you’ve stayed independent and still do everything yourselves. What does it mean to be independent in 2014 as an artist, and would you ever sign with a label?
MK: Being independent in this day and age means a lot. Having the freedom and autonomy to create what we feel is good music, plan our marketing and promotions the way we see fit, and then keep the rewards from our hard work within our company is a winning situation. I can literally make a song about anything…anything…and actually release it because we are independent. That is huge! Signing to a label is not in my immediate plan; however, the key to remember is strategic alliances and partnerships. If the right opportunity, with the right return and benefit was presented to me at the right time…I would consider it, consult with the team and make a sound decision at that point.
RR: A lot of country rappers have been rejected by the mainstream country people in the industry who just don’t understand the country rap movement. What’s the craziest thing or the worst advice you’ve been given by someone in the industry?
MK: The craziest advice I have been given? I’ve been told to give up…this kind of music won’t work. That’s crazy…yes…but what would be EVEN CRAZIER is me listening and believing that.
RR: There seems to be gatekeepers in the industry that don’t want to open the doors to the new wave of country artists coming up through the ranks unless they are backed by a major label. How difficult is it to break through traditional channels and will the industry ever change to reflect happening what fans want to see?
MK: As an independent artist, especially in a place where traditional music reigns, there are going to be historical barriers and challenges, and maybe in the years to come it will change and be easy for anyone with a talent. But in the here and now, I use all of that gatekeeper business as motivation. I respect it, but I work hard like all of the greats have and I plan to make my mark. When those powers that be get the opportunity to experience my music, I really believe the whole game will change. Plus, true music fans can’t and won’t be denied what they truly want to hear.
RR: How do you respond to critics that think country rap is just a fad, and that the two shouldn’t mix?
MK: Hip-hop was projected to be a fad…36 years ago! (LOL) Country music used to be contained to the south (primarily) and now you’ve got country music stars on shows like American Idol, The Voice, network television…everywhere. The entire world is mixing and merging and culture is being shared across the board, shouldn’t music too?
RR: What next for you as well as the street team?
MK: We have a brand new single on deck, a tour, and a list of next-level projects that are going to move 1203 into a whole new realm. As always, we’re looking forward to putting out more hot music and interacting with our fans…2015 is going to be BIG! Stay plugged in at www.mikelknight.com and www.facebook.com/countryrapking.